This beautiful and elegant walnut Madonna and Child takes from the early representations of the Virgin and Child known as the Enthroned Virgin and Child or Sedes Sapientiae (the ‘Seat of Wisdom’ or ‘Throne of Wisdom’) which derive from a formula inaugurated in the Romanesque period. The Latin phrase likens the Mother of God in majesty to the Throne of Solomon, the Prophet King, referring to her exalted status as a vessel of the Incarnation carrying the Holy Child. The subject embodies a complex and core Christian doctrine of the Virgin's role in the Incarnation (the moment in which Christ became flesh) and ultimately in the redemption of humankind. The Incarnation gave Mary a unique position as principal mediator between heaven and earth, and between God and humankind. The association of the Blessed Virgin with glory and teaching in this tradition was popularised in Catholic imagery from the mid-11th century.
Although the iconography erecting the Virgin in Theotokos (Mother of God) designating her as the main intercessor between the faithful and her son, is most successful in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it is at the very end of the Gothic period that our must be attributed work.
Indeed, the elegance of the figures and the refinement of the dress of our Virgin, invite us to a dating in the second half of the 15th century. Wearing a dress fitted at the waist with a belt, hidden under a fine blue coat held on the chest by a rich clasp close to the finest achievements of goldsmiths of the fifteenth century and similar to those depicted in the works of Jan Van Eyck, Mary integrates the typology of the young courteous virgins of the second half of the fifteenth century. Graceful, with loose hair, dressed in royal court clothes, she evokes one of the celebrated works related to this head model: Notre Dame de Grasse (1).
The dating is confirmed by the stylistic analysis of the work. Indeed, Mary’s slightly convex forehead, her high eyebrows, her delicate nose, her slender mouth and her small raised chin, give the Virgin’s features the great distinction of the most beautiful Limousine creations of the 15th century, such as the Saint Marguerite of Cressat (2), the Saint Barbara and the Virgin of the Collegiate Church Saint-Junien (3), the Saint Catherine of Saint-Aurélien of Limoges or that of the Abbey of Solignac (4). These comparisons allow us to suggest the origin of our Sedes is most likely the County of Marche, between the South of Berry and the North of Limousin.
Although some stylistic comparisons can be established, our Madonna and Child constitutes a rare piece of originality in the landscape of Gothic sculpture of the fifteenth century. Indeed, if the Enthroned Virgins still meet the same success in the statuary of the fourteenth and fifteenth century, they nevertheless abandon their hieraticism and frontality in favor of the promotion of maternal emotions. The smiling child then moves on one of Mary's knees to turn tenderly towards her or to be animated. This is not the case on our Sedes, which preserves in a very exceptional way its position of Enthroned Virgin, distant and majestic, solemnly presenting the Child-God, according to the Roman typology. There are hardly no similar patterns in fifteenth-century sculpture , notably with the exception of two little young Seated Virgin seated at the Dijon Hospital in Burgundy (5).
This charming paradox between Romanesque iconography and the fifteenth century style of our Virgin could be explained by the commission in the second half of the fifteenth century of our sculpture meant to fulfill the absence of a Romanesque Sedes (very popular in the region), to which the faithful would have related more easily and probably wished to preserve the memory of the typology.
(1) Anonymous, Virgin and Child: Nostre Dame de Grasse, Region of Toulouse, c. 1460-1480, Toulouse, Musée des Augustins, RA 788
(2) Anonymous, Saint Margaret of Antioch, 1500, Cressat, Église Sainte-Marguerite
(3) Anonymous, Saint Barbara, 15th century, Saint-Junien, Collégiale
Anonymous, Virgin and Child called Notre-Dame du Moutier, end of the 15th century, Saint-Junien, Collégiale
(4) Anonymous, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, 15th century, Limoges, Chapelle Saint-Aurélien
Anonymous, Saint Catherine, end of the 15th century, Solignac, Église Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul
(5) Anonymous, Seated Virgin and Child, 15th century, Dijon, Hôpital Général
Anonymous, Seated Virgin and Child, 15th century, Dijon, Hôpital Général
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